Water distribution issues along the Wasatch Front are heating up as Utah's growing population floods land formerly used by agriculture.
But before anyone gets too steamed up, State Engineer Bob Morgan has proposed managing water rights on the Provo River, Spanish Fork River, Utah Lake, Jordan River and other sources as one system. He presented the allocation proposal Tuesday at public hearings in Salt Lake City, Provo and Heber City."We want to resolve the issues before they become so big and get out of control," Morgan said.
As the state engineer's office reviewed the water situation that surfaced from development of the Central Utah Project and construction of the Jordanelle Dam, it focused on two areas that needed change: water rights in Utah Lake and their relationship with upstream water rights; and other distribution issues such as exporting water from basin to basin, and one-for-one water exchanges.
Traditionally Utah has no problem with water distribution except during droughts. Attempts are then made to define who has rights to the water.
"Water is a touchy subject, and we want to establish a 45-day comment period on our proposal. The final decision can't be made until we get comments from the community," Morgan said.
The proposal would clarify water rights and set priorities for distribution. First priority would go to those with direct-flow water rights on the Jordan River dating to 1850.
Normally, natural additions to the Jordan River satisfy these rights in Salt Lake County, but the right to water in Utah Lake can be exercised if needed.
Other rights are divided into primary and secondary rights and are given use according to water level.
Water inflow on Utah Lake is approximately 726,000 acre-feet per year. The bottom 125,000 acre-feet of Utah Lake is reserved for use of primary rights. The remaining water is considered "system storage" and is available to all secondary rights.
Whenever the water level drops to or below 125,000 acre-feet, all service to secondary rights will be suspended.
Also, all upstream storage facilities will be allowed to store water until Utah Lake reaches a compromise level of approximately 128,300 acre-feet. All upstream storage is to be considered as system storage and may be called upon to satisfy primary needs.
Direct flow use on tributary streams to Utah Lake will be assigned priority dates so the entire drainage system can be managed as one system.
Priority dates are still negotiable, but appeals must be made through the state engineer. Priority will then be decreed by the courts and enforced by the state engi-neer through water commissioners.